Shooting at the Right Target

by Faraz Baig

If anyone has ever played rec league basketball as a kid, you probably remember the time one of the players got the ball and started going towards the wrong goal. Everyone shouts frantically at him to stop, but the kid is on a mission! With laser-like focus, he swoops towards the goal, shoots, scores, and turns around with a huge grin on his face, ready to celebrate. And then…the realization hits. Woops. Yup…the rec league basketball experience never seems complete without that guy.

Just like the scenario above, with anything you do in life, you have to understand where you are trying to go before you start worrying about the how. It sounds rather easy, right? But it’s not always as black-and-white as it would be in basketball. At least in basketball, you have people desperately yelling at you when you start going the wrong way. But in real life, you usually only find out after you’ve scored in the wrong goal.

Allah, through His Mercy, has informed us of the ultimate goal: Paradise. He has also informed us of the reality of this life. The translation of verses 20-21 of Surah al-Hadid reads, “Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion?

Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and Earth, prepared for those who believed in Allah and His messengers.

Certainly, it’s very liberating to know that this life is ultimately worth nothing and that the real prize is in the Hereafter. But just knowing the ultimate goal isn’t enough: you also have to have specific goals to keep you on track day-to-day.

You see, there’s this law psychologists have called “Parkinson’s Principle.” It basically says that “the amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.” In other words, if I asked you to turn in an assignment in 30 minutes, you’d finish it up and have it to me in 30 minutes. But if I asked you to turn the same assignment in next Monday morning, guess what? You’d probably take all the way until Monday morning to finish because it tends to go to the bottom of your to-do list until then. The takeaway point: people respond to deadlines. We need deadlines in front of us; otherwise, nothing gets done.

Isn’t this so true for us as Muslims? How tempting is it to say, “I’ll become more serious about Islam later?” It’s good that we realize the importance of being serious, but unfortunately, “later” usually starts off as “after high school,” and then it becomes “after college,” and then it becomes “after I get a job,” and then it becomes “after marriage,” and so on. All this while, we can’t escape this fact: we have no idea when our time will expire.

So since we don’t know when “the” deadline (i.e. death) is, having short-term goals can give us some deadlines to help us stay on track inshaAllah.

Much has been written about harnessing the power of good goals in order to achieve success. Below are some good tips for setting good goals. By no means is this an all-inclusive list of advices for goal-setting…it’s just some nice advices I have received and have found useful:

  1. Intentions, intentions, intentions

Every action starts here. If you have this step down, then your pursuit will be successful, plain and simple. The Prophet (SAW) said, “The deeds are considered by the intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intention.” (Bukhari and Muslim) So if one just has a sincere intention to seek reward from Allah, then he is already on the path to success.

  1. Shoot high!

Nobody shoots for the bottom in worldly affairs, right? We want the best grades, the best jobs, etc. Religion doesn’t have to be any different. Why shoot for the bottom ranks of Paradise when everyone is qualified to shoot for the top?

I love some cliché old sayings…even though they might seem cheesy, they still can drive home points, so here’s a relevant one: “Shoot for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll still land amongst the stars.”

  1. Be specific

“Be good” isn’t exactly the best goal. It’s similar to shooting baskets blind-folded: one knows the general direction to go in, but it leaves an awful lot to chance. Specific goals are much more meaningful. Something like “Pray 5x a day,” “recite 15 minutes of Quran before going to sleep,” “give x amount of charity once a month,” etc. will be much more useful in leading to actions.

  1. No action is too small!

Some of the best actions in Islam are the smallest ones. The hadith literature makes clear that many seemingly small actions, such as praying on time, reciting Quran, cleaning the Masjid, remembering Allah, standing in the front row of prayers, and even just smiling at your brother carry a humongous amount of reward. There are many more actions which yield huge blessings despite requiring only minimal effort. So if these small actions are turned into daily habits, then the rewards start to add up in a big-time hurry!

  1. Keep on moving forward!

Brother Imran Salha has been giving some very beneficial classes on tazkiyyah (self-purification) at IFN. One of the key points he drove home at a recent session was that in order to purify ourselves, we have to keep striving and not get lazy. A very eloquent example he used was that of water: water that is dormant gets contaminated, but water that is flowing tends to stay fresh and clean. Similarly, as Muslims, if we get lazy and stop trying to improve ourselves, we’ll decay, but if we keep pushing, we’ll keep on purifying ourselves inshaAllah.

These are just a few points. For the interested reader, there are many other materials related to goal-setting that are definitely worth reading. There are some sites specifically tailored to Muslims as well, such as

Just remember that at the end of the day, taking any steps to please Allah pays huge dividends. As the Prophet (SAW) related to us, Allah says “He who draws close to Me a hand’s span, I will draw close to him an arm’s length. And whoever draws near Me an arm’s length, I will draw near him a fathom’s length. And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running.” (Sahih Muslim)

And Allah knows best. We ask Allah to send His peace and blessings on the Prophet (SAW).


How to Treat Others in Islam

by Safiya Arif

Every time there’s a holiday about appreciating others (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, etc.) my parents always say something like “Every day is Mother’s Day.” While they appreciate the extra love that day, they remind us that we’re supposed to constantly show love and respect to everyone around us, including but definitely not limited to our parents, siblings, and friends. They remind us that our kindness shouldn’t be a one-day production, but rather a part of everyday life. And they’re right!

Our character and the way we treat others are major aspects of the teachings of the Prophet (S). He (S) was kind to everyone he met, even to his enemies. He made people feel respected and special to the point where each one of his companions thought they were his favorite. In any and every situation RasulAllah (S) was the epitome of perfect character and as Muslims, we should strive to embody that.

Over winter break my siblings and I went to Toronto to attend the Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention. One lecture given by Shaykha Muslema Purmul particularly stood out to me and it relates really well to this topic. She spoke about improving our relationships with our families and friends, and she gave us 4 guidelines to focus on.

  1. Rahma Mercy

Be merciful with the people around you. Give them more than what they ask for out of love for them. Go out of your way to make others happy.

This is applicable every day, when you get home from school and your parents excitedly ask you, “What did you do today?” Instead of replying with the usual “nothing,” (It’s okay, that’s what I used to say too…) respond with a proper answer. You might be exhausted and not in the mood to talk, but that’s what’s meant by being merciful with those around you. Have a conversation about your day, because even if it doesn’t mean much to you, it’ll mean the world to them. And by making your parents happy, you are making Allah swt happy inshallah. Your parents have shown you this kind of love since the moment you were born. They don’t have to drive you to your friend’s house or buy you all the things you want, but they’re good parents so they do it to make you happy. And since they love you so much, your happiness brings them joy. As children we should also try to make our parents happy, and we should find joy in their happiness.

Rahma is also important with your siblings. When your brother or sister comes into your room and starts bothering you, usually it’s because they want your attention. Instead of telling them to go away, reply by giving them what they want. Next time your brother wants to play basketball and you would rather read a book, consider playing with him to spend time with him. Next time your sister wants to go shopping and you would rather go biking, consider giving her this one and making her happy.

Our religion is so beautiful that even smiling is an act of charity and worship. Imagine the reward you will get for going beyond that when you act selflessly with those around you.

  1. Karam – Generosity

Be generous with your love and kindness for others by always highlighting the good characteristics of people. Be thankful for the beautiful traits you find in people and love them despite their flaws. Affection comes from gratitude, and generosity comes from affection. So ultimately, you will be a more giving person if you are thankful.

For example, let’s say you and your friend had an argument about something. Suddenly all of that friend’s bad characteristics come to mind and you’re so irritated that you wonder why you’re friends with that person in the first place. At this point you can only see their flaws. This happens in every relationship. At some point someone will say or do something that bothers you. It’s important, however, to be generous with them and give them the benefit of the doubt. Think about what may have caused them to say what they’ve said and do what they’ve done. Try to come up with excuses for them before you think anything bad about them. And remember all the good of their personality, how much fun you always have with each other, and what a great friend they’ve been to you since you met them. Suddenly that friend doesn’t seem so bad and you’re not as angry anymore.

Generosity can be applied with strangers as well. Sometimes when I’m driving I’ll notice a car cutting everyone off and dangerously speeding through traffic. Part of me gets really annoyed and I’m hoping a police officer will stop them. But another part of me likes to pretend that the driver is rushing to the hospital because his wife is about to have a baby. Suddenly I’m making dua that he gets there safely and that the baby is born healthy. The same type of generosity goes for when someone bumps in to you at school. You can become angry and wonder what you did to deserve it, or you can give them the benefit of the doubt and think it was probably just an accident.

“If you’re good to those who are good to you, then what good are you?” – Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ninowy

When you give others the benefit of the doubt and focus on the good, you’ll find that your relationship with them will only improve.

  1. Sakina – Tranquility

Tranquility is extremely important when dealing with others. You shouldn’t feel like you’re walking on eggshells around people and you shouldn’t make people feel like they’re walking on eggshells around you. You should feel safe to be yourself and have differences of opinions. One disagreement shouldn’t ruin everything. Respect and forgiveness play a huge role here.

When you and your friend don’t disagree on something, you should respect their opinion and know that they’re allowed to have one that’s different from yours. It’s okay to have a discussion about it but try to be kind and courteous about it. Try not to alienate them for having a mind of their own.

Allah swt created us all to have our own personalities. We should appreciate each other for the unique traits we have and try to learn from each other. And we shouldn’t feel weird for being different ourselves. Instead, know that you have something that nobody else has to contribute to the world and be proud of it. Know that weird is actually awesome.

  1. Mawaddah – Compassion

Take a moment to think about the people closest to you. They’re the people who are happy when you’re happy. They’re the people who support you when you’re down. They’re the people that value mawaddah.

RasulAllah (S) said, “The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Nowadays people’s first instinct is to put each other down. When you see someone succeeding, be happy for them and be inspired by them. The same goes for when people are struggling. Be empathetic and if you can, help them.

Decide what kind of person you want to be, set out on working on improving your good characteristics and diminishing your flaws. Be the best you can be and touch the lives of the people in your life.

The Prophet (S) said, “There are seven whom Allah will shade on His Shade on the Day when there is no shade except His Shade.” Of those seven categories, one is “two men who love each other for Allah’s sake, meeting for that and parting upon that” [Al-Bukhaari and Muslim]. Inshallah we can all make the intention to treat our families, friends, and anyone else we come across with kindness and respect, for no other reason but to please Allah swt. May Allah swt make us people of this category and grant us His Shade on the Day of Judgment. Ameen.

Have you used any of these guidelines with your family or friends? Have they shown rahma, karam, sakina, or mawaddah toward you? Do you have any other strategies that can help us become people of this category? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Lent 101

by Sara Fadlalla

So, what is Lent? That is the question I wonder each year when the Easter candy starts springing up in the store aisles, and fast food chains have special deals on their fish sandwiches. Learning about different religions and their religious practices is crucial, especially when respecting other’s faiths is important and specifically stated in the Quran and Hadith. So where does Lent come from in the scriptural texts and why is it so important?

Lent historically was a means for early Christians to self-examine and self-deny in preparation for Easter. Because of this self-denial and self-examination, early Christians used fasting to demonstrate those actions. By denying oneself food, he or she is then able to really reflect and examine oneself. This is not too far off from what happens during Ramadan; when we stop eating and drinking, we grow weak, tired, and our true selves present themselves, and in that way we are able to evaluate our character, and grow and think more clearly. Today, though, there are various more lax stipulations about Lent, although the two major notions of self-denial and self-examination still exist. Catholics, for example, have relaxed some of the stricter fasting rules making only Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Fridays preceding Lent days of fasting. This is not fasting in the Muslim sense, but fasting from, what was considered luxurious, so meat specifically and some Christians likewise avoid eating dairy products and eggs because of their medieval stance as luxury. This explains why restaurants begin providing an even greater variety of fish, which historically was viewed as less of a luxury item, and much more commonplace.

Why do people give something up during Lent? Well, if you recall the rationale behind Lent are those of self-denial and self-examination; therefore, denying oneself pleasurable and desired things (like chocolate, sweets, or other delights) helps in reflection and examination through denial of chosen item. This also shows some overlap with Ramadan in our restraint from things that are halal, yet still impede in our ability to truly benefit from Ramadan. An example of this may be limiting the amount of time spent playing video games or watching television in order to read more Quran and pray Taraweeh in the Masjid.

Basically, Lent is the Christian derivation of self-reflection, self-denial, and self-examination, and when we really think about it, Ramadan has a lot of those same characteristics. So, whenever I ask a friend what they’ve given up for Lent, I think having a grasp of why they choose to do so will allow me to never belittle their religious experience just because I think mine may be seemingly “more difficult” because, at the end of the day, denying oneself of something for the sake of their beliefs is a struggle many faith traditions can agree upon is both very challenging and rewarding.


by Sarah Ahmed

The Prophet (s) once asked his companions, “Do you want to see a man of Paradise?” He then pointed at a man who was passing by as a man of Paradise. One of the companions who was talking to the Prophet (s) wanted to know how that man had earned Paradise, so he decided to spend time with him and figure this out. He noticed that this man didn’t pray tahajjud or do anything outside the usual worship, so he decided to ask him if he did anything special. The man replied, “The only thing that I can think of, other than what everybody else does, is that I make sure that I never sleep with any rancor in my heart towards another.” That is what got him into Paradise, the act of never going to sleep holding anything against someone.

Think of the last time someone hurt you in any way. It could be big or small. Perhaps you told your friend a secret and he ended up telling several other people. Maybe your parents made an important promise and didn’t follow through with it. Or a classmate is spreading awful rumors about you. Whatever it is, what did you do after? Sometimes when we’re hurt, it’s easier to let go and at other times, it seems impossible to do so.

Now think about the times you’ve held onto the hurt, the times you didn’t forgive, the times you held something against someone. How did that feel? That feeling is often a negative energy, something that’s very burdensome and exhausting. Is that really something you feel like hanging onto? Martin Luther King, Jr. said “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” According to the Mayo Clinic, getting rid of that burden by forgiving allows you to be emotionally and physically healthier. You’ll have less anxiety, a stronger immune system, a healthier heart, lower blood pressure, and overall healthier relationships.

So how do you forgive someone?  In the video below, Shaykh Saad Tasleem mentions three ways:

  1. We all need the mercy and forgiveness of Allah if we want to enter Paradise. One of the ways we attain that is forgiving others.
  2. What if this person died tomorrow?
  3. Can you guarantee that one day you will not be in that position? What if we need the forgiveness of someone else?

What are some other ways you’ve forgiven others before? Let us know in the comments!

The Tongue: A double-edged sword

by Faraz Baig

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…

Or at least that’s what they say.  Even though it’s a cute little rhyme, I gotta say:  this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Words are probably one of the most powerful tools known to mankind.  Words can literally transform lives.  They can rally an entire nation.  They can drive ever-lasting changes in very short periods of time.

Words also happen to be the ultimate double-edged sword.  On the one hand, they can heal more effectively than the strongest medicines known to man.  And on the other hand, they can cause more destruction than the most potent of weapons.

To illustrate how powerful words are, consider a hadith from the Prophet (SAW): A man utters a word pleasing to Allah without considering it of any significance, and Allah exalts his ranks (in Jannah) for it.  Another one speaks a word displeasing to Allah without considering it of any importance, and for this reason, he will sink down into Hell. (Bukhari)

It’s very scary to think that saying some words can cause one to face such severe punishment.  And what’s even scarier is that the tongue has a couple unique qualities that make it a recipe for disaster:

1. The tongue is a muscle that virtually never gets tired.  If you walk a lot, your legs get tired.  If you lift a lot of heavy things, your arms get tired.  But if you speak a lot…nothing happens.  Maybe your jaw or your throat will get a little tired, but the tongue itself can just go on and on and on.  Sometimes, it even feels like your tongue gains momentum as you get going!

2. Very few people can control their tongues.  Any time an opportunity presents itself to leave a snarky/sarcastic/inappropriate comment, we just have to take the bait for whatever reason.  And unfortunately, you can’t really physically restrain the tongue the way you can with the limbs.  It’s pretty much just your mind that has to do all the work with stopping the tongue.

The good news is that even though the tongue is a big challenge, the reward for controlling it is immense.  As a matter of fact, the Prophet (SAW) said: Whosoever gives me a guarantee to safeguard his tongue and his private parts, I shall guarantee him Paradise. (Bukhari)

Pretty sweet deal, right?  All your problems are solved, you’re given everything your heart desires, and you never have to worry about anything ever again…the only price is you have to protect those 2 things.

Still…it sounds great on paper, but it’s not that easy sometimes.  But it is definitely do-able.  The following are some of the most common ways the tongue can get us into trouble.  Being mindful of these is a great first step to safeguarding one’s tongue!

1. Backbiting/Slandering

This is any time where you speak about someone in a negative way behind their back.  If you’re saying true statements about the person, you’re backbiting.  If you’re saying false statements about the person, you’re slandering.  But either way, you’re losing because you’re wronging someone.

True story: one of the great scholars of the early Muslim generations was a man named Sufyan ath-Thawri.  Someone once told him that a group of people had been backbiting about him.  So Sufyan ath-Thawri, being a pretty well-known scholar and all, could have easily just bashed these guys in a speech and exposed them to the community.  But instead, he sent them a bowl of dates with a note attached to it reading, “It has come to my attention that you have assigned me some of your good deeds.  I couldn’t think of another way to thank you besides this bowl of dates, so please accept it.”

Could the scholar have been any more of a boss in that situation?  The truth is, when someone wrongs others, he risks having his good deeds given away to the people he wronged on the Day of Judgment.  So firstly, don’t wrong others, and secondly, don’t freak out if you see people wronging others and seemingly getting away with it.  Allah will certainly take care of things.

Last point on backbiting: the opposite of backbiting someone would be to cover up their faults.  And the Prophet (SAW) said: Allah will cover up on the Day of Resurrection the faults of the one who covers up the faults of the others in this world. (Muslim)  So the next time you have a chance to cover for someone, remember that you are also covering for yourself!

2. Lying

A 2002 study from the University of Massachusetts concluded that 60% of adults told at least 1 lie during a 10 minute conversation (  Yikes!  The sad thing is that these conversations were recorded, and many of the participants weren’t even aware at just how often they bent the truth.

Here’s the thing with lying:  besides being prohibited in Islam, most of the time, it’s completely unnecessary anyways.  Very rarely do you have a life-threatening situation that requires you to lie (and if you did, you’re allowed to lie if it means the difference between life and death).  Many of our lies are just little exaggerations and fibs that are just used to spice up conversations.  Totally not worth it.  If you can avoid lying, rest assured that you’ve won a major victory.

3. Curse words and immodest/vulgar language

See the embedded YouTube video for a nice discussion on using foul language.

Video: Making the angels write down curse words

4. Idle talk/useless talk

It’s not haram to talk about sports, games, clothes, food, etc.  That said, one useful piece of advice I’ve heard is to watch it and not let the conversation go overboard.  A 10-minute discussion can easily become 3 hours.  Again, maybe it’s not haram to talk about some of these things, but that sure is a lot of time to flush down the toilet.

Also, many of these discussions wind up leading to areas that should be of no concern to people.  There are some things that it’s better to just not know about.  The Prophet (SAW) said: Part of a person’s being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him (at-Tirmidhi).

5. Statements which constitute shirk or kufr

This might be the most destructive one on the list.  Even Muslims can fall into this trap, although sometimes it’s very subtle.  The good news is that this one can be avoided pretty effectively when you arm yourself with knowledge of the basic creed (i.e. ‘aqeedah) of Islam.

One final comment: please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that saying bad things via electronic messaging (such as texts, e-mails, social media chats, and YouTube comments) is ok.  Electronic messages are really the same thing as talking.  You are still communicating ideas and thoughts to others; you’re just using a different medium than sound waves.  At the end of the day, electronic messages accomplish the exact same thing as speech.  Actually, the electronic format can just amplify the impact of your words: since the messages can be saved and archived, they continue to spread to others without any effort from you.

At the end of the day, like all of our other gifts, the tongue can be a means for us to reach salvation, but it’s also something that needs to be monitored for our own sake.  We ask Allah to help us all do what is pleasing to Him.

And Allah is the source of strength, and Allah knows best.  We ask Allah to send His peace and blessings upon His final Prophet (SAW).

Valentine’s Day

by Amina Ashraf

Valentine’s Day is coming up this weekend! Isn’t that exciting? Or is it? As Muslims are we allowed to celebrate Valentine’s Day? What’s wrong with showing people that you love them? Let’s first look at the history of Valentine’s Day and where it actually comes from.

One legend says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is said that he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial — which probably occurred around 270 A.D — others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “christianize” celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.

The boys then sliced the goat’s hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goat hide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D.

In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)

Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.


Anas (Peace be upon him) reported that upon arriving in al-Madinah, the Prophet saws found its people celebrating two days whose significance was held over from the Jaahiliyyah. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: When I came upon you, you had two days that you continued to celebrate from the Jaahiliyyah; indeed Allah has substituted them for you with what is better: the day of Sacrifice and the day of Fitr (breaking the fast). (Abu Dawood)

Whether or not you celebrate, we should spend every day showing the people we love how much we care about them. Our parents, siblings, and friends deserve more than one day from us.

After finding out about the history of this holiday, what are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments below :).

Making Excuses

by Omar Jamil

According to Wikipedia, Fundamental Attribution Error is “people’s tendency to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation, rather than considering external factors.” But what exactly does that mean? Let’s look at an example:

I am running late for a meeting in which I am giving a presentation. Why am I running late for the meeting? I am suffering from a bad cold, so it took me a while to get out of bed because I had a bad headache. After showering I had to let my hair dry before I went outside, I don’t want to make my cold worse! I am scrambling to get everything together, working through a haze of sickness. I check my phone at 9:07am and see that someone from the meeting has texted me, with no time to see what he said I grab my things and run out the door. Overall, my morning routine was pushed back 20 minutes. When I arrive I hope everyone will realize that I am sick and that my illness caused my tardiness. After all, its not like I can control whether I am sick or not! After the 20 minute delay, the meeting finally begins.

Let’s flip the script now.

I am sitting in a meeting at 9:02am, the meeting was supposed to start 2 minutes ago. The person who was supposed to present today is still not here. Ugh, they are so irresponsible, how could they be late to the meeting they are presenting in!? Another 5 minutes go by, 9:07am. You know, he’s pretty lazy, I bet this 9am meeting was a real push for him anyway, I doubt he is even awake. I shoot him a quick, slightly passive aggressive text, but no response. He’s probably ignoring my text, what a jerk. At 9:20am the presenter finally comes rumbling into the room, blowing his nose as he puts his things down, obviously sick. He has such terrible sleeping habits, I bet his immune system really suffers from him not taking care of himself. After the 20- minute delay, the meeting finally begins.

The short story helps us understand Fundamental Attribution Error. When we make a mistake, we tend to focus on the circumstances that resulted in the mistake. We realize that external factors contribute to many of our shortcomings and we also hope that others will recognize these. Ironically, while we hope others will give us the benefit of the doubt, we rarely give them the benefit of the doubt. When others make mistakes we usually attribute those errors to ingrained problems in the person’s behavior.

This Fundamental Attribution Error has a negative impact on our hearts in 2 ways:

  1. We constantly make excuses for our own shortcomings, refusing to acknowledge how internal problems contribute to them
  2. We point out the flaws of others (often wrongfully so), becoming complacent in our own development and developing other sins of the heart (hatred, jealousy, mistrust etc.)

The Prophet SAW said, “Overlook the slips of respected people” [Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad], meaning that we should give people the benefit of the doubt and overlook their flaws. Note, that the Prophet SAW said a respected person. This does not mean that you should give a stranger your wallet and give them the benefit of the doubt. It does mean that if you see a Muslim brother walking with a girl, you should assume they are talking about something important, or simply overlook what you saw and move on (if something becomes a pattern, sometimes you should advise them in the appropriate way, but this is a different discussion). To this point Hamdun al-Qassar, one of the great early Muslims, said, “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.” [Imam Bayhaqi, Shu`ab al-Iman, 7.522]. This does not mean that you should literally make a list of 70 excuses when you see someone make a mistake, but rather, that you should try your absolute best to assume the best of others.

Not only will this skill help you in your relationship with others, but as Hamdun al-Qassar indicates, people that constantly see the flaws of others are actually flawed themselves! The Prophet SAW said that, “A believer is a mirror of the believer.” [Abu Dawud] meaning that what we see in others is a reflection of what we have inside. So we should make excuses for people, overlook their faults, focus on the good in others and hope that as a result of that, we develop goodness in ourselves.

In his commencement speech to Stanford in 2012, Corey Booker tells a beautiful story which hits on many of these lessons, and emphasizes how we should not only have a positive outlook of the people around us, but of the world around us.

(Starting at 16:40 in the video)

“Newark had so many strong neighborhoods but I sought out one that was in struggle and found it on Martin Luther King Boulevard. It looked spectacularly troublesome to me. My eyes saw abandoned homes being used for drugs. My eyes saw violence. My eyes saw graffiti. But the first person I met, the tenant leader in high-rise projects that I would eventually move into, Miss Jones, she said to me, “Tell me again what you see. Describe what you see around you.” And I described what I saw.

And she looked at me and she said, “Boy, if that’s all you see, you can never help me.” And I go, “What do you mean?” And she goes, “You need to understand something, that the world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you. And, if you see only problems and darkness and despair, that’s all there’s ever gonna be. But, if you’re one of those stubborn people who every time you open your eyes, you see hope, opportunity, possibility, love – even the face of God – then you can help me make a change.” And I remember, after she said that, looking at her, scratching my head, and thinking to myself – OK, grasshopper, thus endeth the lesson.”